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North, South Korean leaders say they'll never repeat 'unfortunate history,' but don't say how

A huge screen shows live video of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a press center for the inter-Korean summit, in Goyang, South Korea, on April 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL -- The leaders of North and South Korea declared after their historic summit on April 27 that they will never repeat past mistakes of failing to follow through on bilateral agreements to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ease military tensions.

"This marks the starting point of our move toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We'll never go backward," South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters at a joint news conference in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on April 27, 2018 following the signing of their joint declaration.

"We'll strive to make achievements and avoid repeating the unfortunate history of past South-North agreements," North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the same press conference.

The Panmunjom Declaration the two leaders released appears to send a message to U.S. President Donald Trump, who claimed before the U.S.-North Korea summit talks that North Korea had continually deceived the United States.

But the joint declaration does not specifically define "complete denuclearization." At the news conference, Moon stated, "The North's measure to freeze its nuclear program is of great significance," but did not elaborate or say how Pyongyang's abandonment of nuclear arms would be verified.

Kim stated that North Korea "will thoroughly implement North-South declarations adopted in the past," though he did not clarify which declarations he was referring to.

A high-ranking official of the Blue House, South Korea's presidential office and residence, explained that Seoul has already outlined the level of denuclearization it is demanding from North Korea.

"'Complete denuclearization is specifically described in the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (that came into force in 1992)," the official said.

The 1992 declaration states that "the North and South shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons." The document also incorporates a ban on the possession of uranium enrichment facilities. North Korea, however, has ignored this declaration, rendering it a dead letter.

The Blue House official emphasized that the Moon government was unchanged in its position that North Korea's nuclear development program "constitutes a violation of the denuclearization declaration."

However, North Korea has raised suspicions that U.S. forces in South Korea, which is also covered by the declaration, may have deployed nuclear weapons.

After the release of the joint declaration on April 27, another source close to the Blue House said, "There are responsibilities and roles we should fulfill in the process of denuclearization."

However, when asked by a South Korean news organization whether "responsibilities and roles" was a reference to the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the source answered evasively.

If transparency of U.S. forces in South Korea emerges as a topic in discussing "complete denuclearization," North Korea could demand nuclear inspections in South Korea.

The joint statement also says North and South Korea will try to gain support and cooperation from the international community in their efforts to declare an end to the Korean War by the end of this year and transform the armistice into a peace agreement.

According to a document released by the North-South summit preparatory committee, the two countries will not only strive to seek understanding from the international community, the United Nations and other international organizations but also proactively hold talks through three channels: Seoul and Pyongyang, Washington and Pyongyang, and Washington and Seoul.

During a chat before the official summit, Moon looked back on the past mistakes and told Kim that the most important thing was speed.

"We are the leading characters on the Korean Peninsula. We should be an ethnic group that will move hand-in-hand with the world, so that we can ensure neighboring countries follow us," the Panmunjom press corps quoted Moon as telling Kim.

Questions remain as to whether the two Koreas can persuade the United States and China to support signing a peace agreement this year and realize the denuclearization of the peninsula.

"Even if the South and the North have meaningful dialogue regarding denuclearization, it would be meaningless unless an agreement were reached on the matter at the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit," said a senior official with the Blue House. "This meeting should be evaluated after the U.S.-North Korea summit."

In an apparent bid to emphasize the significance of the summit meeting, the two leaders jointly planted a commemorative tree.

As they came face to face for the first time, Moon shook hands with Kim and told the North Korean leader, "You've just come to the southern side, but when can I cross the border?"

In response, Kim said, "Would you like to cross it now? They then crossed the military demarcation line together.

North and South Korean performers, including musician Cho Yong-pil, were present at a banquet to demonstrate a thaw that the two countries achieved through cultural exchanges on the occasion of the February 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

At the same time, North Korean officials appeared wary about Kim's first visit to South Korea. Two North Korean security guards were seen disinfecting a chair Kim was going to sit in when signing a visitors book. He wore gloves offered by his sister Kim Yo-jong during the tree-planting ceremony.

When the North Korean leader traveled by car, 12 security guards surrounded and ran together with the vehicle.

(Japanese original by Akiko Horiyama and Chiharu Shibue, Seoul Bureau)

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